La vérité sur l’affaire Harry Quebert by Joël Dicker ***

Reading dates: 12–30 August 2014

This is a very good example of a book that tries to do too much. It is a detective story, an American novel, a book about writing. Yet, it is not David Peace, Don Delillo or Henry Miller (or Strunk and White, for that matter). It has references to Lolita, to Twin Peaks, echoes of Jonathan Franzen; yet, Joël Dicker is none of them. The chapters are in descending order, as if it tried to tell the story backwards, but it is not Christopher Nolan’s ‘Memento’. The novel is like one of those disappointing meals without a genius recipe, made mixing nice ingredients one has in the fridge. I like rich food: olives, sun dried tomatoes, anchovies, capers, pickled limes, goats cheese. I have mixed all of them together in a single dish and the result is always less than the sum of its parts.

It is an enjoyable book — all of my favourite ingredients are here — one that I am glad I read but which I don’t think I will re-read. It is a playful punch in the stomach, friendly sparring; not the blow that makes me spit blood, like Houellebecq did one time, like Delillo achieved with ‘White Noise’, which is funny as well, what a feat. And, above all, the writing — not the translation, I read it in French — is mediocre. Not a single shiver down the spine. Well, perhaps with the reveal, which is also close to my heart, but that was due to clever thinking. The book is clever, just not a masterpiece.

Dicker won the Goncourt prize with it, and perhaps this is what prizes have come to — like when Laure Prouvost won the Turner Prize in 2013, instead of Tino Sehgal. It was nice work, but I had seen it before, and perhaps better realised.